How old is this wildflower meadow?

About 40 minutes walking distance from my home is a cow field that hasn't been ploughed in living memory.  The meadow is managed very traditionally indeed.  The only fertiliser used on it comes directly from the cows, it's not overstocked, it's never seen any weedkiller and every summer it's cut for hay.

Come spring time, the meadow glows yellow with the flowers of cowslips and buttercups.  It's absolutely stunning and I often wonder how old it actually is.

traditional meadow with cowslips and buttercups

Glorious spring meadow

One clue to the age of a meadow

In a document from the Aberystwyth University Repository, John Warren explains how the number of petals on buttercup flowers can help to date a species rich meadow.

From time to time, a plant will mutate a little - a fact that plant breeders understand only too well and use to their advantage.

The creeping buttercup Ranunculus repens usually has 5 petals on each flower but from time to time it will mutate so that it has more petals per flower than normal.

According to this document, for every 100 plants, one plant will have mutated for every seven years of the meadow's age. So, if the meadow is 100 years old, 14 out of 100 creeping buttercup plants will have more than 5 petals on the flowers.

Apparently this experiment also a found a connection between the age of the meadow and the quality of the pollen.

Counting buttercups

To find out the age of the meadow near my house, might take a while but it's something that's on my "to do" list for next spring.  On the other hand, I could just ask the farmer.

buttercup with six petals

buttercups in meadow










         six petals on a buttercup flower


Buttercups in a traditionally managed meadow - love                     the colour contrast







buttercups and cowslips in a spring meadow

buttercups and cowslips in a spring meadow---stunning!


Different types of wildflower meadow

Downloadable booklet: how to make a wildflower meadow